Sunday, January 31, 2010

Street Photography: Robin's Take


I have been growing slowly and passionately on Street Photography lately. I am not sure how or why, but probably sitting in the office being depressed over the ever-expanding workload 5 days a week somehow prompted me to move my legs, and walk. Since street photography basically require me to move my ass and walk a lot, it sure is the perfect antidote, making up for the unlimited hours of unhealthy sitting. Also, you have no idea how many interesting subjects there are out there in the streets.

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Afternoon Slumber. I was one meter away from this dude, and I only had one shot before running away.

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Fallen, and abandoned kiddie bike.

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Scenes of KL Backstreets

This entry shall serve as my record of a few tips I have gathered while doing my research reading online, and a few note I added on my own based on my limited experience. This should not be taken as a guide, or a "how-to" list, but rather more like my sharing of what works for me, and that does not mean they will work for you precisely. The only way to discover what suits your shooting style, would be going out there and make beautiful photographs happen. This entry exclusively reflects my own style, and how I take on street photography.

1) Be positive, and There will be Subjects

One of the main problems I have heard from many shooters, especially amongst my peers would be this: "there is nothing to shoot", "KL streets lack interesting subjects for street photography", and "street shooting is unpredictable, depends too much on luck, and boring". If you have already mounted those pessimistic mentalities on your mind even before you put your lens on your DSLR and go out shooting, I am afraid you already have cut down your shooting opportunities by at least more than half !! Do not be afraid, do not worry too much. Photography should be about fun, and you will never know what you will find until you are actually out there on the streets. That is one magical thing about street photography, you see what your heart wants you to see, and that will only happen when you open your heart to your surroundings. Stay positive, keep an optimistic mindset, and you will suddenly find subjects popping out from even the most ordinary looking subjects. Now it is up to you to capture it, and present it in your own creative style.

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More views on KL back lanes and alleys.

2) Shoot what is there to shoot, not what you want to shoot

In street photography, you do not always have the opportunity to control anything at all. Your task is to capture the scene as is, and it may not come out perfect, but there are a lot other factors that contribute to a strong street photograph. Spontaneity, expressions, actions, emotions, are just a few things that can be included as elements to amplify interests in street photography. A lot of people would start up a photography session with so many expectations and planning in their mind, myself included, and often when on field, none of the subjects or circumstances would appear to be what we have anticipated. Randomness and unpredictability are the key to really fulfilling street photography sessions. Go with the flow. Sometimes, the best of photographic opportunities happen without us knowing in advance, and it is up to us to be there and shoot it.

3) Go close, and go wide

If you have been an avid reader of photography rules and tips, be it on books, or online tutorials, you must have come across this famous saying "if your photograph is not good enough, it is most probably because it is not close enough". On the streets, I have dared to move myself closer to my subjects. For the inanimate things, and non-people subjects, this did not pose a problem. For human portraits, or anything to do with people, I make quick judgment on the spot. If the people I chose to photograph did not pose any threat in whatever sense, then I took a bold move to step in closer, and make the shot happen close up. Being as near as possible to the subject can fill in the frame more dramatically, and it engages your viewers more. I used the 11-22mm wide angle lens to fit more elements into one single frame, and also employed perspective distortion to my advantage by exaggerating the size of subjects being places nearer to the corners.

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Most street photographs were turned into black and white, or monotones. I do think the treatment may open up a different feel and outlook. Nonetheless, I still prefer to keep many of them as they were with the original colours.


Nonetheless, if you see a drunk with a broken bottle in one hand, you might just want to stay your distance, and employ other means of taking the photograph, if you do decide to still snap a photo of the drunk. Safety first, remember !!

4) Shoot Discretely

There are some subjects that are best approached from a far distance, without them knowing you pointing your lens at them. This can create a few advantages. You can capture the scene as is, without imposing any impression of your presence, your subjects wont be self aware of their own actions, and can pose more naturally. A long zoom lens is required for this task, and I was utilizing the tele zoom lens, making use the most out of the full zoom capability all the time to get in close to my subjects while maintaining a far distance. To avoid being spotted, being on the move all the time is essential. Do not stop at one spot for too long, stop only to make that few shots happen, then move your legs. People will be less aware of your presence shooting them if you only appear for a very short while.

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Here is an example of getting as close as I can, and creating a more dramatic composition.

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Shooting location revealed !!!


5) Be Courteous

Following up point 3) where getting close to your subjects is encouraged, it is prudent to strike a friendly smile, and make short conversations. This can ease up the people you get in close contact with, and making it less awkward to photograph them.

A simple thank you, a hand shake or a nod can go a long way after a shoot.

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6) Trust Your Camera

In most photography situations, the photographer would try to control the camera as much as possible. However, in street photography, sometimes a technically correct photography may not be the best one. It all comes down to how prepared you are, and how quick you can respond to an opportunity. I set my camera to Programme Exposure ("P" Mode), meaning the camera will determine almost everything, shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting. I worry primarily on focusing on my subject, framing it and making the shot happen as the chance arises. Being responsive is all street photography about, and capturing the moments is not easy task if you ask me. If you still take your time fiddling with the F-number and Shutter speed (some people die die also want to shoot in Manual, sheessshh !!!! then use a film camera lah !!!) by the time you are done with your settings, your subjects might not be there for you to photograph anymore.

DSLRs, even the compact cameras these days have been designed to fit into high demands, and their programmed auto settings have become quite reliable. Yes, those programmed exposures may not be perfect, and setting it manually gives you control, but at least by engaging the programme mode, you can get "almost" correct exposures, minus the little few misses, you can still make some corrections later in Post Processing. What is more important, getting the shot, or getting your settings perfectly right?

Just trust your camera, and get that shutter button clicking before its too late.

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Toys that fly.

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Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoes !! Anyone remember that poem from the English Text Book?

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7) Travel Light and Safe

Since plenty of walking is needed, it is wise to travel as light as possible. I fitted a small sized sling camera bag, with only two lenses, a wide and a tele-zoom. I ventured the streets alone, which was not exactly a bright idea considering the high crime rate in KL streets. Nonetheless, you may also want to keep your group small, and using minimal gears. Too many people walking may attract unwanted attention, and using those huge-ass guns such as 70-200mm F2.8 IS at places where people beg for survival, you are just asking for trouble. Yes, using more basic camera setup may impose some compromise in your final photography output, but the importance must be emphasized: be safe, go lightweight and minimal.

8) Apply Sunscreen

Oh, KL sun can be so evil. I got sunburned all over, walking under afternoon sun. FML.


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A trishaw in a city.

I sure had plenty of fun going around streets of KL, breathing in the polluted city air, and exposing my skin to harmful cancerous UV radiation. Nonetheless, the experience is quite worthwhile. I am still seeking ways to improve my street photography, and I must reiterate that I am quite new to this. I am in no rush of course. I sure hope my sharing will benefit some of you, and if you have any other interesting or useful note, please kindly add in via the comment section. Also, if you have any ideas, or thoughts, do not hesitate to voice up.

Street shooting anyone?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sushi Zanmai, the Gardens


So it was finally Friday, which I was actually looking forward to. Chong has arranged dinner plans for a sushi feast, and I have been dying to have one decent Japanese dinner for quite some time already. I may have given up on many obsessions I brought back from Perth, but my love for Japanese food has not wavered. Reservations were made at Sushi Zanmai in the Gardens, Mid Valley even few days prior to the dinner, and this proved to be a wise move. As we arrived to the venue, the line queuing to the entrance of the restaurant did not look very pretty. Nonetheless, we made our way to the reserved spots with no fuss.

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This was also one great opportunity for me to really try out my newly acquired lens, the Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm F2.8-3.5. Generally this is a super wide angle zoom lens, not exactly an ultra wide, but wider than usual wide ends offered by standard kit zoom lens. I have made up my mind to replace my standard kit lens with this 11-22mm, hence I am anticipating using this lens a lot more from now on. In fact, this will be my carry around lens, and most probably will stay with the body whenever long telephoto zoom is not required. Going out dining, 11-22mm will be the lens I lug along, and I believe this will be more than good enough to do the job.

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Tempura Mix, Beef Tataki, and Raw Beef Slices for some funky Soup Mix that Chong ordered. Yummy !!! However, the beef tataki slices were a little too chunky, and I would have preferred it to be thinner.

Low Light Photography

Since the lens offers F2.8-3.5, which is very bright for typical lenses, its use in low light condition is really welcome. With lower F-number, meaning larger aperture, I can manage to gather in more light, hence adopting the use of higher shutter speed. Therefore, lens shake has become less of an issue. For a wide angle lens, the shaking of the lens has also become less pronounced, in comparison to longer zooms. Coupling all this advantages of wide angle bright lens with the image stabilization in my camera, I can get blur free, tack sharp images every time, even under the poor ambient light circumstances. This surely was a bonus, and I did not use my external flash at all this time, for all the photos displayed in this entry. I did bring the flash along though, just in case, but did not find any need for it in the end. The F2.8 brightness did prove to be quite beneficial especially for indoor shoots.

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Chong in action with his Canon PnS camera. Do not underestimate him, do check out his food blog entries here. He has got some really awesome food photos going on there.

Lens coverage

I have never expected this lens to perform well in food photography. The previous staple lens I utilized for most of my food photography was 25mm pancake. Although I do feel that pancake was a near perfect lens for most food photography situations, but I could almost emulate the same angle of view, with slight loss of brightness at 22mm F3.5. It was no surprise then, I have let go of the pancake lens, and that contributed to the fund of this 11-22mm. At 11mm, I was provided with quite a new perspective in capturing food, I can fit the entire table with so many plates together in one single frame !! I can choose to emphasize on the plate that I wanted to bring the attention to, by placing it to the extreme front of the photograph, letting the distortion does its job in pulling the subject wider towards the edge. At 11mm F2.8, I did not expect the bokeh (background blur) to come out quite smooth and pleasing. Even though it was not as creamy and blur as longer zooms, but the evident bokeh was a welcome to enable me to isolate my subjects further. If there is a need to bring certain parts of the food closer, I can zoom into 22mm, at F3.5, and with close focusing distance of 28mm, I can make decent magnification, a very slight close up shooting capability I must say. It is not as good as a macro lens, but it does its job. Do check out the close up shots of some of the photos here, they do look very presentable !!

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Unagi. One of common favourites.

Photo Output

This is the second time using this lens, with extensive shooting. After reviewing the photos, and did a little pixel peeping, I was stunned with the image quality. I may have anticipated the higher picture quality, since this was after all a Pro Grade lens, but I did not expect to be this astonished. The sharpness and contrast level were a lot better than my kit lenses (duh !!) and somehow, the colour tone come out a lot more pleasing. The amount of details this lens was able to resolve was quite respectable. Even at fully wide angle end, 11mm, the photos come out really sharp from corner to corner. Center sharpness seems more evident, and I have not even stopped down to F8, where most lenses exhibit their greatest strengths. Better sharpness, contrast and colour, I am certainly very happy with what the lens is doing. I just could not wait to bring this lens out in the bright daylight and see what it can do there and then !!


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Some really funky Salad, and a really weird looking sushi we saw on other serving tray that we decided to order one for ourselves.


Japanese Feast

Alright, enough of lens talk. I do have to apologize, for getting into my own world again rambling about really photography/technical stuff. Do bear with me, because this was my new lens, after more than a year of not adding anything new to my gears.

Thanks to Chong, I had a friend to dine with. This was my second time to Sushi Zanmai, and I must say their food quality and services are quite recommendable. Their sushi and other Japanese dishes may not exactly appear and taste like their authentic original counterparts, but they do have their own unique style and pattern to it. Food serving size was not overly huge, but generous enough. Some people may actually prefer to have Japanese buffet, at places like Jogoya, Tenchi or Shogun, but somehow, if you want quality, you are unlikely to find the best in those buffet places. Made to order dishes have always been superior in many aspects. This fact was proven right at Sushi Zanmai.

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And a round of Coffee to round the evening off. Iced Caramel Machiato and Cafe Latte.

It was quite a fulfilling dinner I must say. Filled my tummy with good Japanese food, had a chance to really utilize the new 11-22mm lens, and catch up with Chong, a great friend, blogger and photographer. This was certainly a wonderful way to open up to a long weekend !!

Do expect a lot of shutter therapy sessions coming up. Have a great weekend everyone !!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Slightly Wider Perspective


So I have got that new lens, Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm, and my hands have been itching all day to try it out. Unfortunately I only got it late evening yesterday, and working full day only meant I could take the new lens out for a spin later today. I got off work dangerously near sunset, and I was chasing time to make some shots happen. This was one rare occasion when I go for shutter therapy on weekdays.

Not so pretty sky

It actually rained when I got off from work, but as I took the LRT down to the city area, it was dry there, but the sky was very cloudy. Not exactly ideal for sunset, I thought to myself. Knowingly, weather has always been unpredictable, and oddly unfavorable to me every simgle time I arm myself with gears out for shooting. Nonetheless, this session was not so much of making beautiful shots. The primary focus was to test the lens, and make sure it worked fine shooting in the field. What better place to shoot, other than the city overlooking the not so nice sunset? Urban scene can get quite boring. Like I said, this was all about getting familiar with the lens, and better pictures will come in the future as I learn and grow with the lens. For now, no stress.

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I was standing less than 1m away from the wall, snapping the above two photos. This is the advantage of wider angle lenses, it provides you flexibility in restricted working areas, allowing you to cover more frame in shorter shooting distance. Directly behind me were cars. For normal kit lenses, I would have to move further behind, and the view is then blocked by the cars already.

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Slightly Wider Perspective goes a long way

So what is so special about this 11-22mm lens? It is replacing my old 14-42mm lens, which started at 14mm at the wide end. For this new lens, at 11mm, with only 3mm wider, the perspective it is able to pull into the photographs may not be overly dramatic, but the difference is significant. The slightly wider view adds in the extra depth and space. This is most welcome especially when it comes to landscape and sceneries. I have always found the old lens at 14mm to be too restrictive, and now, 11mm may not be a true ultra wide angle, but at least it provides me that extra flexibility when it comes to composition. I can fit a lot more elements into my frame now.

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Why not go even wider?

There is another lens by Olympus, which is 9-18mm F4-5.6. This lens is classified under ultra wide angle lens, and the field of view is significantly wider than what I currently own. Ideally that would have been the lens of choice, but I have my reasons for choosing the not that wide 11-22mm. First of all, it boils down to the faster/brighter aperture of F2.8-3.5 on 11-22mm, meaning I can shoot handheld indoors much better in comparison to F4-5.6 on the 9-18mm, which could be quite a struggle. Extra wide coverage is always welcome, but it is not so easy using it when the furthest zoom is only at 18mm, as opposed to 22mm, which is closer to what natural human eye is comfortable in viewing. Build quality wise the 11-22mm is definitely better, since it is weather sealed. Losing the 2mm may be quite a pain when it comes to wide angle considerations where every single mm counts, but I have to come to realize the importance of having brighter aperture. Furthermore, I have tried the 11-22mm before during one of my trips to Malacca, and I fell in love with it there and then.

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I just loved how wider angle lens can open up the sky a little more deeper, and adds drama especially if the cloud formation is quite interesting. Now, the sky can be included as one of the enhancing elements in the photograph. The emphasis was on the sky, which was getting rather gloomy and dark.

Advantage of Shooting Wide Angle

There are many advantages having a wide angle lens. First of all, it gives the wider coverage, meaning you can fit more space from left to right, top to bottom into the photograph. For wide angle lens, shooting at lower shutter speed is usually less of a problem, since at 11mm, you can comfortably shoot at 1/20 seconds or slower, even without IS turned on and still having a safely shake blur-free photo. Adding the advantage of Olympus Image Stablization system, I find no trouble going even at slower shutter speed, thus enabling me to shoot during post sunset times, when the available ambient light was rather low. Also, for wide angle lenses, the depth of field is usually more, greatly compensating for undesired error in miss-focusing. Focusing speed and accuracy also have become less of a problem, in comparison to longer lenses. Combining all the points stated above, and knowing when and where to utilize the lens, I believe the 11-22mm can be quite a capable lens on many grounds. I just have to bring myself out to explore it.


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Who cares of the buildings look like they are falling behind or sideways? The distortion is what adds interest in the photos !! I love the effect, and I purposely seek it.

Distortion? So What?

Do not be confused, there a few types of distortion common to lens behavior, mainly perspective and barrel distortion. For 11-22mm, barrel distortion has been reported to be controlled very well. Unfortunately, perspective distortion happens, unless there is perspective correction mechanism employed. Perspective distortion is the kind of distortion that makes the bottom of the picture looks bigger than the top, as if the building is tilting backwards, or falling behind. This phenomena can be easily overcome by carefully using the lens. Some technical junkies really hate those distortions. You know what? Call me nuts, but one of the reasons I buy this lens, was so that I can CREATE those distortions in my shots !! Yes, I love the perspective distortion, and they can be evidently seen in every single photographs shown in this blog entry. The lines perspective exaggeration was being pulled excessively, producing an out of the ordinary output, which is way better and different than normally technical correct, oh so straight, oh so distortion-free, oh so BORING looking picture. This is a like it or hate it situation. I cannot force you to love the distortion, but then, if you know me well enough, I love to bend rules.

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Finally I can fit the whole height of KLCC twin towers into my photo in a single frame !! Previously I needed panorama stitching to fit the whole tower in. Also, take note I was shooting those KLCC photos handheld. At 11mm, F2.8, shutter speed of 1/15 seconds was no trouble at all, and look at the photos, they come out sharp, really sharp !! I know I should bring tripod and use long shutter speed, but that shall be for the future sessions, ya? Even this simple quick snapshot, the photos came out very pleasing, and I was very happy with the lens.

Photos this session did not come out as good as I originally intended. I was a little on the rush, since the weather seems like it was going to rain any time soon. First round of testing, and boy oh boy, was I happy with the lens !! Check out the sharpness, it is razor sharp !! The colour tone was a little off this time, no thanks to the odd looking sunset which was diffused by the clouds. I have seen what this lens can do under really good sunset, and better clearer skies. The colour reproduction was just stunning. So far, the lens really opened up a different perspective in my photographs.

So yeah, 11-22mm first run. I cannot wait for the weekends when I can fully make use of the lens and see what I can really do with it !!